The South African Grand Prix has provided rather interesting, although not yet definitive, indications about the Formula 1 world championship title race. While Renault has confirmed the validity of its ambitions, negative notes have arrived for the reigning World Champion Ferrari. The Maranello team, despite using one of the most powerful naturally aspirated engines, suffered a heavy defeat that raises concerns for the rest of the season. Some of the numerous fans who always follow the Italian single-seater trials with great passion expressed disappointment:
"You can't win all the time, but we expected at least a decent performance, a placement. Instead, Villeneuve and Scheckter disappeared from the scene immediately, and we are left disappointed".
This is a fairly calm and judicious opinion from people who do not have a football-like mentality. They are not calling for the coach's dismissal at the first setback of the team, nor do they want the replacement of this or that player deemed responsible for the losses. However, these fans are asking themselves a question: why did Ferrari suddenly, without apparent reasons, lose its competitiveness and even its proverbial reliability? Does Enzo Ferrari's theory about the champion's trajectory, which suggests that when winning, motivations diminish, the drive to give the best and take risks dwindles, apply to an entire team as well? Perhaps, among the various factors that have determined the current situation, there is also a small component in this sense. But that is not enough, especially considering that aiming for success in racing for Ferrari is not just a matter of pride and competitive spirit but a matter of life on an industrial and commercial level. Sporting success is the flagship of a prestigious car manufacturing factory. Therefore, the reasons are not psychological, resulting from a relaxation after a season of great successes (like the last one) but purely technical. If they were easy to find, they would have already been automatically resolved. This is how Mauro Forghieri, the technical manager of the Maranello team, explains the difficult moment:
"In 1979, we were right to stick to our regularity, but there were already signs of a tough battle at the top of Formula 1 at the beginning of the year with the amazing results of Ligier and at the end with those of Williams. Now, everyone has been surpassed by Renault, which, thanks to the turbo engine and a truly valid car, has been able to give about two seconds per lap to every rival. Evidently, we couldn't keep up, and to recover, perhaps, we tried to force beyond our capabilities".
Although not going into details, this speech already gives a measure of the difficulties that Ferrari is facing. It should not be forgotten that the Italian team, only in Formula 1, is engaged on several fronts, and this probably affects the results. The races that follow one another at a fast pace, the continuous development of the T5, the production of narrower engines that will better exploit the wing-car, and the turbo engine program have almost certainly diverted forces and caused a loss of focus on the goal of winning immediately and always.
"Even in 1978, we had a troubled start to the championship, but then we recovered: the only possible solution is to have confidence, we in our means, the fans in knowing that we are doing everything possible not to disappoint them. It is the best way to become competitive again as soon as possible. Along with Michelin, we will work hard to try to solve our problems. However, we need tranquility and a bit of luck because it is not easy to always be the first".
The whole story also involves the situation of the drivers. No one doubts the value of Scheckter and Villeneuve, who are always among the fastest and most combative. But if talk of transfers and arrivals (Jody and Gilles out, Patrese and Prost in) has already begun, just at the beginning of the championship, even the South African and the Canadian could get nervous and not perform as they can. As every year since 1976, the Formula 1 Circus moves its tents to the sun and spring of California.
On Sunday, March 30, 1980, the United States West Grand Prix will be held, a traditional event on the city circuit of this location that aspires to be a Monte-Carlo of the West Coast but lacks the charm and worldliness of the small Mediterranean principality. For now, interest in the Grand Prix, which will attract at least 100.000 spectators over the weekend, is modest. Newspapers do not yet talk about it, giving more space, albeit without great emphasis, to the soccer scandal, i.e., Italian football. The only signs for the upcoming sports event (most teams are already working on fine-tuning their cars in the immense hall of the Convention Center) are many posters stuck to the walls and workers who in the morning and evening hours assemble the circuit with kilometers of guardrails and protections made up of nets, prefabricated concrete blocks, and piles of used tires. Everything will be ready by Thursday, March 27, 1980. A classic city circuit of 3250 meters, with about fifteen turns, two of which are almost hairpins, some spectacular ups and downs, and a fast straight in the port area. A race full of interesting aspects will take place on this track. Let's try to list them, starting with some news. Alan Jones will also be in the race. Initially, it seemed that the Australian driver of the Williams team would have to withdraw due to a serious case of pleurisy discovered immediately after the South African Grand Prix. Instead, it was only the beginning of this disease, and Jones, who has already undergone appropriate treatment, will be able to compete even though there may be doubts about his performance at the moment. We mentioned the reasons. Here they are: confirmation of Renault's form after recent successes; verification of the frustrated ambitions of the last Williams trials; the return to great competitiveness of Ligier; the test of a substantially modified Lotus, which could bring Andretti (reaching his 100th Grand Prix in this race) and Elio De Angelis back to the top. Additionally, Ferrari, which has not yet scored a single point, Alfa Romeo's progress, and the debut of the new Osella, hastily constructed by the Turin-based manufacturer without even being able to conduct a test after Cheever's incident at Kyalami, are all awaited.
Needless to say, beyond any assessment, the eyes of everyone are still on Ferrari. Many wonder if the men of the Maranello team have really solved the problems that plagued the T5s in the first part of the season. On a circuit that has always favored Italian cars (Regazzoni's victory in 1976, Reutemann's in 1978, Villeneuve's in 1979, with the only exception of Andretti's victory with Lotus in 1977), failing again would practically mean abandoning any hope of regaining the world title. While the disappointed American fans eagerly await the United States Grand Prix, the disputes between FOCA president Bernie Ecclestone and FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre continue. The two top officials of motorsport continue to play pranks and carry on their distant battle. The latest move is in favor of the FISA president, who did not accept the entry of the famous American driver Ricky Mears, entered with a third car by Brabham, the team owned by Bernie Ecclestone. Balestre appealed through the organizers, who had to reluctantly announce the non-acceptance of the entry for regulatory reasons. The entry was submitted too late and not within the three months prescribed by international codes. Maers, winner in numerous American specialties, including the famous Indianapolis race, will not be able to participate in the fourth race of the Formula 1 World Championship, as he hoped. However, Ecclestone is not yet absolutely convinced and is trying everything to have the third car accepted along with those of Piquet and Zunino. The latter, meanwhile, runs the risk of being removed from the team in favor of Mears, who could compete in the upcoming European races. On the news front, there is not much to report. Ferrari hopes to have a good race, but the opponents are numerous and all very determined. There is a practically new Lotus for De Angelis and Andretti, a well-prepared Williams for Reutemann and Jones, two strong Ligiers for Laffite and Pironi, just to name a few of the strongest teams. However, Villeneuve and Scheckter have few doubts:
"If the car performs well, we will try to achieve the first positive result of the season. We hope to place at least in the points zone and start the climb towards a possible regaining of the world title. Not all hopes are lost, and we will see from Sunday if we can climb the rankings".
On Friday, March 28, 1980, a splendid sun accompanies the first day of the United States West Grand Prix. During the morning, when the cars hit the track for the first time, there is also an air of joy in all teams, dictated by the hope of achieving good results.
This optimism is justified by the enormous amount of work done by the majority of teams that have adapted the cars to the short and tortuous American circuit. Upgraded brakes with forced ventilation, a longer wheelbase for better cornering, are the adjustments adopted on several single-seaters. And if there is some anxiety at Ferrari to see if the modifications made to the 312 T5 are correct, curiosity is present in every team. Shortly before the start of the first and indicative timed session, Jody Scheckter speaks again about the current situation.
"We, for the moment, are convinced that we can at least have a fair race. We went all out at Fiorano to solve the issues with the T5. Now all that's left is to wait and see if our expectations will be met. As for the world championship, at the moment, I see a battle between Renault and Williams, namely between Arnoux and Jones, with the possibility of Ligier's Lafitte making an entry. We still have to start our journey, and I think it will be very difficult to catch up, even though there is still a mathematical possibility of catching up with our competitors".
The South African is quite calm and does not comment on the recent rumors that this might be his last season with the Maranello team. Regarding the driver market, which some want to advance ahead of the usual terms, there are rumors circulating these days. Ferrari would intend to confirm Villeneuve for 1981, provided the contract issue is resolved, as it seems the Canadian is asking for a substantial increase compared to past figures. Scheckter, on the other hand, is rumored to be leaving, unless he too can be offered a super compensation (or a very competitive car). Riccardo Patrese has reportedly received a substantial offer from Ecclestone to become the lead driver for Brabham. These are speculations, of course. Contracts will be drawn up starting at the end of June, with the exception of Ferrari, which, like last year, would like to resolve the driver situation by May. Returning to the race, a great struggle is to be expected in any case, even though the circuit, being very narrow and unsuitable for overtaking, will not allow for dramatic developments. More than aerodynamics, at Long Beach, engine power and brake efficiency will matter. For this reason, everyone has paid attention to details that were partially neglected on other occasions. For example, Lotus, in addition to adopting a new domestically made gearbox (narrower and allowing better airflow under the car), has placed the rear shock absorbers inside the gearbox itself, which is perforated in the central part. This solution should allow for greater competitiveness for Colin Chapman's cars, which are gradually emerging from the crisis of the previous year.
Despite the dominance demonstrated in Brazil and South Africa, few are giving Renault significant chances for the race. But it must be said that the French team has prepared very well for this event, and Arnoux and Jabouille will also need to be reckoned with to get into the points. Now, however, it's up to the engines and the drivers. It has been confirmed that the American Ricky Mears with a third Brabham will not be able to take part in qualifying and therefore the race. The organizers of Long Beach, perhaps reluctantly, had to reject the entry as it was not made within the regulatory deadlines. Regardless of the result of yesterday's race, the United States Grand Prix has once again demonstrated the state of confusion in which Formula 1 currently finds itself. Technical and human values, that is, for machines and drivers, change constantly, without a thread of logic. Those who stand out on one track are then contradicted in the next race, with few exceptions. The only sure thing is the supremacy of the machine over the human element. When a car performs well, when it is competitive and balanced, it matters little who is driving it. The differences between one driver and another are minimal, at most, they can be accentuated on certain tracks that some find more congenial and others more challenging. Confirmation of this situation came from the two qualifying days for the Long Beach Grand Prix. The data from the five hours of official and free practice are at least perplexing and show how everything is empirical, tied to a moment, even to the slightest variation. Here are a few examples. On Friday, Elio De Angelis in the morning with the Lotus recorded the second absolute time. The Italian driver is happy, thinking of securing a good starting position. But disappointment is lurking. In the end, the driver has to settle for the twentieth starting position.
"I can't understand; we adopted the same solutions, the car hadn't changed, and we couldn't repeat the result".
Saturday morning, Pironi's Ligier, which had dominated on Friday, is repeatedly overtaken, and incredibly, Lammers with the ATS inserts himself in fourth place. Just a month ago, the little Dutchman was without a drive. Shadow had left him at home because he hadn't brought money. In any case, he had not been competitive last year, always being clearly surpassed by his teammate De Angelis.
"He's not good; he'd better give up".
And yet here is Lammers playing the leading role, placed in the second row of the starting grid. Some immediately express doubts.
"There are upgraded Cosworth engines for sale. Whoever has the courage to use them and is not discovered can achieve remarkable performances".
With such serious accusations and rumors circulating every time there are innovations and a car emerges from anonymity with surprising results, the confusion in Formula 1 can certainly not be improved. However, the Long Beach race can be remembered for the highlights highlighted especially in practice, with the return of Brabham to pole position after a long time. Nelson Piquet's feat, with the new lap record (1'17"69), about a second ahead of everyone, brings a smile back to Sante Ghendini, the representative of Parmalat, the sponsor of the English team, after Niki Lauda's retirement. A bit of Italy on the car that started on the front row. The confirmation of Renault (still Arnoux) means that the French car is no longer afraid of twisty circuits at sea level. The little René is also increasingly a candidate to aspire to the world title. And, to stay on the theme of manufacturers, the qualifiers give a positive result for Alfa Romeo with a great Depailler (third time) and Bruno Giacomelli. Engineer Carlo Chiti says:
"Better than we expected; this is the result of the grueling work we subjected ourselves to".
More cautious but no less satisfied is President Ettore Massacesi:
"It was really needed at this moment, even if it's the race that counts".
The Ferrari, at least in practice, performs poorly. Villeneuve is tenth (preceded by Patrese and Pironi), and Scheckter is relegated to the sixteenth position. On Saturday morning, the Canadian must also stop with the engine of his 312 T5 losing laps. Another breakdown. But the problem is not only in the engines. The cars do not respond to solicitations, and above all, they do not improve despite all efforts and modifications. At this point, even a good result in the race would not be enough to dispel all the shadows hanging over the season for the Maranello team. On Sunday, March 30, 1980, during the warm-up, Nelson Piquet collided with Derek Daly at the turn after the pits. The Brazilian's Brabham was launched into the air and landed on the ground, while the Tyrrell went off into the escape route. After a careful examination, Bernie Ecclestone's team decided to stick with the car that had qualified on pole, without using the reserve car. At the start, Nelson Piquet retained the lead, followed by Patrick Depailler, René Arnoux, and Jan Lammers. In the back, at the Shoreline Drive turn, Ricardo Zunino, Mario Andretti, Jochen Mass, and Jean-Pierre Jarier were involved in a collision. Zunino's Brabham and Andretti's Lotus couldn't continue the race. Lammers' race ended on the first lap due to a half-shaft failure. Now, behind the top three, Alan Jones was in fourth, followed by Giacomelli, Patrese, and Reutemann. Jones passed Arnoux in the third lap, moving to third place, while Reutemann overtook Patrese, dropping him to sixth. In the fourth lap, while in fourth place, Bruno Giacomelli lost control of his car under braking and slid into the racing line. Reutemann, following him, couldn't avoid the collision. Elio De Angelis, Jody Scheckter, Eddie Cheever, and Jean-Pierre Jarier were also involved in the incident; Scheckter, Giacomelli, and Cheever continued. Shortly after, Elio said:
"There were no signals from the marshals or yellow flags. Everyone was busy trying to move the stopped cars. So, I didn't have time to avoid the collision".
The marshals quickly cleared the track, although their request for a red flag (which would have stopped the race) was not accepted. The post-incident standings had Piquet leading, followed by Depailler, Arnoux, and Jones, with Patrese in fifth, followed by Gilles Villeneuve, Derek Daly, and the two Ligiers. On the sixth lap, Villeneuve passed Patrese, and between the eighth and tenth laps, both Ligiers overtook Daly. In the 18th lap, Alan Jones passed Patrick Depailler to take second place. In the 27th lap, Gilles Villeneuve also overtook the French driver. Meanwhile, Riccardo Patrese passed René Arnoux to claim fifth place. Also in the 27th lap, Pironi had to pit to change tires, dropping him down the order. In the 38th lap, Jacques Laffite, while in seventh, retired due to a puncture. Bruno Giacomelli moved up to seventh, followed by Clay Regazzoni and Emerson Fittipaldi. In the 41st lap, Villeneuve, during a lapping maneuver, damaged the front of his car and had to pit, rejoining in fourteenth place. A missed opportunity for the unfortunate 312 T5, considering that Villeneuve, the winner the previous year, was in third place, and his teammate Scheckter would finish fifth. In the same lap, Depailler also retired due to a technical issue. Patrese moved up to third, while Giacomelli and Regazzoni entered the points zone. However, Giacomelli had to pit to change tires. Upon returning to the track, he had a misunderstanding with Jones as the Australian attempted to lap him. Approaching the Hairpin, the Alfa Romeo closed the racing line on the Williams. Both were forced to retire. Riccardo Patrese moved up to second, although quite distant from Nelson Piquet. The Italian driver was followed by Arnoux, Regazzoni, Fittipaldi, and John Watson. Fittipaldi was within 0.5 seconds of Regazzoni, but a locked front brake prevented him from launching an attack. At the end of the straight, in the 51st lap, Fittipaldi saw Regazzoni's car go straight at Queen's Hairpin. The Brazilian took the corner and heard a loud noise from behind; he later stated that he was certain Regazzoni couldn't have survived the impact. The brake pedal of his car was made of a light magnesium alloy and had broken. His Ensign hit Ricardo Zunino's Brabham, left parked on the track, passed through seven rows of tire barriers, and hit a concrete New Jersey barrier. It took about half an hour to free the Swiss driver from his car. Meanwhile, the race continued normally.
Emerson Fittipaldi and John Watson continued to battle for fourth place, with the Northern Irish driver passing the Brazilian in the 56th lap, only to be repassed a lap later. Watson was slowed down by gearbox issues. In the 63rd lap, René Arnoux experienced a tire deflation, dropping him to ninth place. Watson was also pressured by Jody Scheckter. Also at the Hairpin, in the 70th lap, Scheckter tried to pass Watson on the inside but misjudged the braking point and decided to give up, settling for fifth place. In his twenty-fourth Grand Prix, after just a year and a half in Formula 1, at the age of 27, Nelson Piquet, the handsome Brazilian, won his first race as a champion. The man who could now be called Emerson Fittipaldi's successor secured victory at the United States Grand Prix West, the fourth race of the World Championship. With this win, the Brabham driver also took the lead in the World Championship, tied with René Arnoux at 18 points. His ascent to the top of the standings added even more uncertainty to the title fight, which now seemed open to many possibilities. Piquet's triumph came at the end of a race with highly spectacular and unfortunately dramatic incidents. The Brazilian dominated the race from start to finish, crossing the finish line with a clear advantage over the excellent Riccardo Patrese, the resurgent and lucky Emerson Fittipaldi, a finally well-placed Scheckter, and the Frenchman Didier Pironi. While everything went smoothly for the South American, many other drivers fell victim to more or less serious accidents. Clay Ragazzoni and Elio De Angelis ended up in the hospital. The Swiss driver, who went off track after inexplicably starting to skid at a speed close to 240 km/h, was admitted to St. Mary's Hospital with a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula of the right leg, a possible spinal injury, a stomach contusion, and a head abrasion. Ragazzoni's accident occurred in the 50th lap, while the skillful Swiss driver, who had made an excellent comeback, was in fourth place. Fate wanted that at the fastest point of the circuit, at the end of the only long straight, his Ensign lost the left front wheel. The car went straight into the escape route and would have collided with the barriers.
Still, in its path, it found Zunino's Brabham parked on its side after the Argentine had retired in the first lap due to a collision with Andretti. The Swiss driver's car shot like a slingshot into the other car, completely tearing it apart, then, after more rebounds, it overturned, keeping the driver trapped. It took over 20 minutes for the rescuers to free poor Clay, who was then transported to the hospital by helicopter. Fortunately, the strong spirit of the 40-year-old champion held up well, and Clay arrived at the emergency room perfectly conscious, despite being in shock. Doctors said his condition was serious but not life-threatening. Elio De Angelis also ended up in the hospital after colliding violently with Eddie Cheever in the third lap. Cheever was the last in a line of five cars stopped on the track, waiting for Giacomelli, who had spun off, to try to get back on the right track. In the impact, in addition to the Osella of the Italian-American, Jarier and Reutemann were also involved, both forced to retire. De Angelis suffered a severe contusion to his right foot. Still, his situation did not raise concerns. Other incidents dotted the race. Jones, while in second place, in an attempt to lap Giacomelli, collided with the Italian's Alfa Romeo and ended up in the safety nets, destroying his car. Of the twenty-four cars that started, only nine finished. The continuous elimination of competitors favored those who perhaps drove slowly but regularly, like Emerson Fittipaldi.
Only Piquet and Patrese completed the race at full laps. It was an unfortunate race for Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. Scheckter's fourth place somewhat lifted the morale of the Maranello team, but it wasn't entirely satisfying. Villeneuve could have secured an excellent position among the top finishers but was damaged in a collision with Daly, forcing him to pit to change tires and the front wing. Later, he had to retire due to a half-shaft failure while in fifth place, after spending a long time in third. On the other hand, Scheckter, stuck in the third lap in De Angelis's incident and then forced to stop at the pits to change tires as a precaution, managed to climb to fourth place, but he could have aimed for more. As for Alfa Romeo, Depailler, colliding with Jones as the Australian tried to overtake, had to retire due to a suspension failure. Giacomelli met a similar fate: Jones side-swiped him, breaking a side skirt and damaging a suspension. Despite starting from the nineteenth position after the third lap, Giacomelli had managed to climb to fifth place. Nelson Piquet kept his promise. After being a thorn in Niki Lauda's side for an entire season, becoming one of the reasons why the Austrian champion left racing, the Brazilian managed to win his first Formula 1 victory last Sunday. On the winners' podium, alongside the excellent Riccardo Patrese, Piquet momentarily abandoned that somewhat serious and somewhat sad air that is typical of him.
"I am happy, especially because I didn't make any mistakes. The fear of making a mistake was my only concern while driving. Otherwise, the victory came easily, thanks to a perfect car. If someone had pressed me closely, I could have increased the pace. I dedicate this success to Brabham, the team I have admired since I was very young".
Next to the South American, there is Riccardo Patrese, finally happy. The second place is the result of a fierce will, wise management of his Arrows, and his driving skills.
"I'm pleased with the result because I didn't have a very competitive car. The engine wasn't performing at its best, and cars easily passed me on the straight. I chose to wait and understand that I couldn't attack those ahead of me. This second place is a confidence boost for me and for Arrows".
The victory at Brands Hatch with the Lancia turbo and now this placement are reviving the team. Do you still have a chance to move to Ferrari in 1981?
"It depends on many factors. If there's an open spot, I believe I still have a chance. I have a good relationship with Ferrari. In any case, if I discover that the marriage with Arrows and engineer Southgate is going well, and if more positive results and perhaps some victories come, I could stay with this team. Everything is premature for now. My goal is to lead Arrows to a first-place finish this year".
In Argentina, your car seemed competitive, then you took a step back. How do you explain this?
"After the Buenos Aires race, we made some modifications to the car, but, from a technical point of view, we went in the wrong direction. When we realized it, we went back and finally, by choosing other solutions, we improved. We thought that the Long Beach circuit would be clearly disadvantageous due to slow curves. Instead, in light of the result, we progressed. And it's not certain that at Zolder and maybe even at Monte Carlo, we won't finally be able to achieve the victory we've been chasing for three years".
Just over a kilometer from the Long Beach circuit, which he had repeatedly criticized in the past and even in recent days for its danger, Clay Regazzoni rests in a room at St. Mary's Hospital with paralyzed legs (and a fractured right one). After the dramatic accident he was involved in during the United States Grand Prix, the Swiss driver underwent a four-and-a-half-hour operation on the night between Sunday and Monday. The outcome of the intervention, which aimed to realign and stabilize the spine, is described as positive by a hospital spokesperson, but inadequate spinal cord pressure still prevents Regazzoni from regaining the use of his lower limbs. The doctors' brief statement does not say when or how the Swiss will overcome this ordeal. Regazzoni is not currently in life-threatening danger, and his body responds well to treatment, but the fear of paralysis is serious. Regazzoni ended up on the St. Mary Hospital stretcher after a sudden skid. As mentioned, the accident occurred during the 50th lap of the Grand Prix. The Swiss driver, with his Ensign, was in fourth place. At the end of Shoreline Drive, while traveling between 240 km/h and 270 km/h, he skidded slightly and without any attempt to brake, entered the short escape route at the end of the straight, before a right-angle turn. The car crashed into the Brabham of the Argentine Zunino, parked following an incident in the same place since the first lap. The impact was so violent that the Brabham was practically cut in two, and Regazzoni's car crumpled, catching fire. The flames were immediately extinguished by race officials. Rescuers worked for over 20 minutes with shears and levers to extract the driver (who was perfectly conscious) and airlift him to the hospital. The initial diagnosis spoke of a left frontal hematoma, a compound fracture of the right leg tibia, bruising to the stomach and chest, and, above all, a probable spinal cord injury. Before the operation, performed by Los Angeles's best specialist, Professor Sneyder, only a Swiss radio commentator, Sergio Noseda, and Ensign's owner, the Englishman Morris Nunn, were able to exchange a few words with Regazzoni.
"Clay is perfectly lucid and has once again shown himself to be very strong".
"He asked me who had won, and then who had come in second. He thinks the accident was caused by the brake pedal breaking, but he's not very sure".
Some eyewitnesses report that there was no attempt by the driver to downshift and reduce the car's speed but only an attempt to move alongside the concrete barriers to find friction that would decrease, at least partially, the speed of the car. It also seems that Regazzoni turned off the engine before the impact. Only Jacques Laffite goes to the hospital. This also shows how fragmented the environment is, how people only think about money and career. Surely, since, if all goes well, Clay Regazzoni faces a long convalescence and almost certain abandonment of competitive activity, someone is already thinking of replacing him. Now Regazzoni is fighting hard, as the courageous man he has always been, to save his physical integrity. The issue of safety in motor racing reappears in all its gravity every time an accident occurs. Assuming that a certain level of risk is inherent in a sport where speeds are so high, unfortunately, it must be admitted that in most cases, everything possible is not done to take all the necessary precautions to avoid tragedies. Too many interests at stake from all sides, in every component of racing activity.
Sports authorities are sometimes influenced by poor professionalism and power games; organizers by advertising and financial interests; teams and manufacturers by the same problems, and also drivers by their personal advantages. Numerous examples could be given to demonstrate that almost always in this field, actions are taken contrary to what logic and seriousness would dictate. World Champion Jody Scheckter, in collaboration with Jean-Pierre Jabouille, is among the drivers most committed to advancing the safety discussion. The Frenchman has developed a plan for building more reliable cars in case of accidents, while the South African, as the president of the Grand Prix Drivers Association, is actively waging a battle on this burning issue. An effort that has also made him unpopular among the less sensitive of his colleagues and, of course, among organizers and manufacturers. Scheckter says:
"We have the will to do something really useful for everyone. But the situation is difficult and complicated. We face blackmail from facility managers and teams, and unfortunately, also the incomprehension and insensitivity of some pilots who only care about making a career and earning money. We intend to take striking actions, to boycott the most dangerous races, but it won't be easy if the front is not united. The problem is complex because it is impossible to please everyone, and it would be necessary to make common sacrifices. Asking, for example, to abolish the Interlagos track would displease Renault, which enjoys the advantages of altitude on that circuit. And so on, on every track, someone has valid reasons to maintain the current situation. The only concrete proposal that can be made is to see everyone together, case by case, to improve facilities and cars".
Even a busy driver like Scheckter, however, has his hands tied on many occasions. Asking the South African to criticize the Kyalami circuit (which is also dangerous) or, even better, the city circuit of Monte Carlo (where Jody resides, like many other drivers) would put him in serious embarrassment. The only ones who would have the possibility to intervene concretely would be the sports executives. But, as mentioned, there are too many interests at stake in this sector to achieve positive results quickly. The fact remains that in the last two Formula 1 races at Kyalami and Long Beach, three drivers fell victim to serious accidents: the Frenchman Alain Prost suffered a wrist fracture, the Swiss Marc Surer both leg fractures, and now Clay Regazzoni risks a dramatic disability. What remedies to apply? It's hard to say. Also because reviewing all or almost all the facilities would require a series of investments with staggering amounts. The only desirable action is for all parties involved to come to the table as soon as possible to try to reach compromises that lead to greater seriousness in the environment. Otherwise, Formula 1 will also lose credibility and influence over fans. Too much greed could have the same disruptive effects as underground bets. The announcement made on Monday, March 31, 1980, in Paris by the president of the FISA, the Frenchman Jean Marie Balestre, about the opening of an investigation into the Long Beach incident, leaves much to be desired. It is indeed provided by the regulations that when dramatic events occur in races, a sports investigation should be carried out.
Instead of publicizing a decision that is automatic, the FISA would do better to behave with more clarity on all occasions. As for the dangerous Long Beach circuit, in 1978 the executive committee of the Formula 1 Commission, based on reports from safety officials Basil Tye and Robert Langford, had decided to eliminate the facility from the World Championship. However, everyone had changed their minds, and Ecclestone, who evidently had received new assurances (on the economic front) from the American organizers, had once again won his game, securing the reinstatement of the United States Grand Prix West on the calendar. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, April 1, 1980, Clay Regazzoni's conditions are slowly but progressively improving. After the spinal cord surgery performed on Monday night, the attending physicians, without releasing a new official bulletin (a press conference was scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed due to the surgeons' commitments), express moderate optimism about the patient's possibility of recovering from the paralysis in his legs caused by the compression of the twelfth vertebra. The prognosis is not yet clear as the medical staff reserve the right to make a final judgment, not having more secure data at the moment. For this reason, it will be necessary to wait a few more days before having reliable information. On the positive side, Regazzoni seems to be responding very well to treatment, and the surgery has been successful.
Two temporary metallic elements have been inserted into the vertebra to straighten the spine. However, the doctors have not yet observed any motor reaction in the paralyzed limbs. In his sterile but comfortable hospital room, Clay Regazzoni spends a quiet day. Surprisingly lucid, the Swiss driver, who once again shows all his courage and vitality in this difficult situation, receives friends and some journalists for a few minutes. On a table next to the patient, hundreds of get-well telegrams from all over the world accumulate, while many bouquets of flowers continue to arrive, sent by anonymous fans. Clay's wife, Maria Pia, who arrived from Lugano on Monday, is also by his side. Regazzoni himself encourages his wife, who appears calm but evidently worried. Clay even has the strength to make some jokes:
"Sorry if I haven't been able to shave yet. I must not look good. Anyway, this afternoon I'll play a round of golf".
Later, the unfortunate protagonist of Sunday's dramatic accident once again explains the phases of his crash.
"My brakes failed, and there was nothing I could do. I saw myself lost, and it was really a terrible moment. And after the fear of the big impact, while I was waiting to be pulled out of the car, the terror came. I tried to think of something else, but I feared fire above all. If the car had caught fire again, I wouldn't have been able to get out. In the end, I was lucky. Before and after the operation, I couldn't feel my legs anymore. Now I seem to feel tingling. In any case, I trust in the reaction of my body. I've always managed well. For now, I don't want to think about anything else, just about getting out of this bad situation. I'm ready for any sacrifice to heal".
In about ten days, Clay Regazzoni will be transported to Switzerland. The conditions of the unfortunate driver remain stable, but his recovery will be long and difficult. For this reason, on Wednesday, April 2, 1980, the doctors decide to admit him to a specialized clinic for paraplegics in Basel, directed by Professor Jenich, the same doctor who in 1974 treated and cured skier Rolland Collombin, who had suffered a similar injury. Dr. Snyder, currently taking care of Regazzoni, says:
"If you want my personal opinion, I must say that predictions cannot be made about his ability to regain the use of his lower limbs. The patient reacts positively to stimuli, but it will take months before a definitive picture of the situation is available. The driver's fiber is surprisingly strong: however, it is not easy to know if he will walk again".
Meanwhile, despite not being exactly aware of his condition, Clay still shows great courage.
"I know very well that a very tough period awaits me. However, I don't want to see sad faces around me. I prefer smiles and beautiful girls".
While waiting for Regazzoni to return to Europe to begin the long rehabilitation period, various controversies erupt about the Long Beach race. The circuit is under scrutiny, and the matter will be discussed at the FISA meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 15, 1980, in Rio de Janeiro. From Argentina, meanwhile, Carlos Reutemann launches harsh accusations against Bruno Giacomelli, stating that the Italian driver is responsible for the incident in which Elio De Angelis rear-ended Eddie Cheever, contrary to what was known, suffering a fracture of the right foot. From Brescia, the young Italian driver rejects all accusations.
"All of this is false because I am not at fault for what happened. I did not reverse, but I was pushed by the race officials. I didn't even see Reutemann. If he has something to say, he should do it personally at Zolder on May 4th. Before criticizing others, he should think about himself. In many years of his career, he has made a lot of mistakes".
Also regarding the American race, the Parmalat Racing, the Italian team managing Brabham, strongly rejects the accusations made by engineer Carlo Chiti, head of Alfa Romeo, who declares to a Roman sports newspaper that Piquet's car was underweight. Engineer Chiti, when questioned again, insists that he is sure of what he said and that the single-seater was weighed, against the regulations, with a lot of fuel in the tank.
"I am surprised that no one has lodged a complaint because those who were following in the standings would have gained points. And there is no point in retaliating against Alfa: I am ready to have my cars checked at any time".
On Thursday, April 3, 1980, Clay Regazzoni's conditions remain stable. According to the latest information, the Swiss driver will have to wait about fifteen days before being able to be transported to the Basel clinic, where specialized treatments await him for the rehabilitation of his still paralyzed legs. Professor Snyder confirms that slight progress has been recorded in the postoperative course.
"The fact that Regazzoni reacts to stimuli is very positive and bodes well for the future. I must repeat, however, that it cannot be said whether the driver will be able to recover in a short time. It could take a month or it might not be enough for a year. If it depended only on him, he would already be healed. But this type of spinal cord injury is not easily controllable".
Meanwhile, Regazzoni prepares to spend the Easter period still immobilized in his bed. His wife Maria Pia and some friends are with him. Get-well messages from all over the world continue to arrive at St. Mary's Hospital. Among those that pleased the Swiss driver the most, an affectionate telegram from Enzo Ferrari, who wishes for a prompt and perfect recovery.